Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

1897, October 14 - Head-on collision east of Stittsville, Canadian Pacific Railway

Ottawa Evening Journal, Thursday 14 October 1897

Shortly after five o'clock this morning the C.P.R. Toronto "Cannon Ball" Exress coming to Ottawa and a freght train ran into each other about three miles this side of Stittsville.  A bad wreck resulted. 
Five are dead and one is badly injured.
The dead are:
Robt. Peden, mail clerk Ottawa.
Jas Hastey, brakeman on the express, Carleton Place.
James Tierney, of Cantley, Quebec, was on the freight and supposed to be stealing a ride.
Engineer, Frank Laurendeau, Carleton Place, of the express is under the wreck and supposed to be dead.
James Fleming of Cantley, Quebec, who was in freight.  Not known how he was on.
The Injured.
Engineer McCuaig of the freight Carleton Place. Leg broken.
Mail clerk Birchall and Expressman T.C. Hewton were badly shaken up.
The Cause.
The accident as far as can be learned was the result either of a misunderstanding or non-obeyance of orders between the night telegraph operator and the conductor of the express.
Marion McNish, the night operator at Stittsville got instructions to cross the express and a freight at Stittsville.
Why the express was not held at Stittsville as orered has yet to be ascertained but the fact is it was not held and thundering on along the downgrade met half of the freight that should have crossed it at the Stittsville switch.  The result was a terrible collision.  At the point where the accident occurred the express runs at a high rate of speed.
Stittsville is at the top of a long steep grade. Just past Stittsville the ground rises slightly and then descends so that a train going east cannot see a train coming west.
The freight train was long and heavy.
The crash
The engineer of the freight divided his train in two.  He had taken one section to the Stittsville siding and was on the up-grade with the second section when the "Cannon Ball" express came tearing down the grade and quicker than it can be written there was a head-on crash, cries of the injured and wreckage strewn all around.  The collision occurred near the Hazeldean crossing.
The wreck was piled up 30 feet high. The two engines are badly damaged and the baggage car on the express and three freight cars wrecked.  The scene was a sad one to witness.
Doctors arrive
As soon as the crash was over and a crowd gathered doctors were set for in all directions.  Soon there were on the scene Dr. Richardson of Hazeldean, Dr. Channonhouse and Dr. Danby of Richmond.  They worked hard to aid the injured.
Jumped for Life
As soon as the express appeared in sight, Engineer McCuaig of the freight put on the air brakes, but as soon as he saw a collision was inevitable he and the fireman jumped for their lives.
Pinned in the Wreck
Brakeman Hastey of the freight, who had been riding on the engine, did not jump.  When the crash was over he was found pinned down by the leg in the wreck of the freight engine.  He was conscious.  He suffered terribly but lived until 8.30. 
The poor fellow could not be taken out.  Mr. S. Mann of Stittsville was near him when he died.
"Get the stuff off me", he said weakly, and I will be all right. He then swooned and shortly afterwards breathed his last.
No Time to Think
According to the story of Engineer McCuaig, the trains did not see each other until they were less than 8 car lengths apart, and there was no time to think.  As soon as he saw the express coming he told the fireman and brakeman, he says, to jump and jumped himself, getting clear.  The air was misty at the time and still comparatively dark.
Descriptions of narrow escapes by crew members
Pen Picture of the Wreck as seen by Journal Reporters 
The wreck is a terrible looking scene. Two engines lie bottoms together, with the debris of broken freight cars and tenders piled upon them.  They are in a ditch on the south side of the track, in a swamp full of bulrushes.
The telegraph poles on both sides are bent away from the track, the wires broken and down.
The track runs through a swampy land and on both sides are low bushes.  The two engines are lying together in a ditch on the south side of the track.  The tender of the exress train was half way through the baggage car and the front of the second baggage car is also badly smashed.  Of the passenger train, only the engine left the track while the freight engine lies beside the passenger engine and the freight cars are piled in a heap on the north side of the track.  Two of the freight cars are smashed to pieces, while parts of the trucks are broken and twisted altogether out of shape.  The trees beside the engines are covered with earth for twenty feet back from the swamp and right up to the topmost limbs, while the fences look as if they had been built of mud.
The track where the engines met has been bent considerably, while the sleepers are broken and many will have to be renewed..  While the train hands at noon today are cleaning up the debris the wreckage was so entangled that many ties were further broken. Trains will likely be moving along the line before five o'clock this afternoon.
Passengers' experiences.
Ottawa Evening Journal Friday 15 October, 1897.  Extensive coverage: Victims taken home, Inquest opened.
McNish in Custody
Operator McNish of Stittsville is being kept in custody at the C.P.R. station.  The crown authorities have not yet decided to place him under arrest, but he is being held for the present. He is only nineteen years of age and feels very keenly over the accident.  An expression of opinion that he is responsible for the accident should be withheld until the verdict of the coroner'sjury is given.
First Train Through
The first train to get past the scene of the wreck was the Brockville mixed which arrived at Ottawa at three o'clock yesterday afternoon about six hours late. --

Ottawa Evening Journal Saturday 16 October 1897.
Borne to the grave.

Eastern Ontario Review friday 3 December 1897

Alex McQuaig, the engineer charged with manslaughter as a result of the accident at Stittsville, has been committed for trial.

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Updated 1 April 2018